Combating Colonialism: Sitka and Lingít Aaní under Tsarist and American Rule
In the first half of the 19th century, the tsarist empire sought to colonize and occupy the land of the Tlingits (Lingít Aaní). In 1867, the United States colonized this land after the departure of the Russians. My project seeks to detail the history of Novo-Arkhangel’sk, modern-day Sitka, Alaska, under Tsarist and American rule in the 1800s. I examine how the Russian-American Company and the American military attempted to establish their presences in and around Sitka and how the Tlingit clans of the Kiks.ádiand Kaagwaantaan resisted and influenced the actions of these colonizers. Through my examination of the tsarist occupation of Sitka, I argue that that the Russians, despite their efforts, were brought into Tlingit politics rather than Tlingits in any way being dominated or controlled by the tsarist empire. I find that the coming of the US military to the region in 1867 was, far from a transfer of power, a new attempt to colonize Lingít Aaní.
My project will be a larger contribution to how occupations function. The tsarist occupation of Lingít Aaní depended heavily on Tlingit goods and foodstuffs and the cooperation of the local Tlingit. I examine the relationship between the Russians and the Tlingitat Novo-Arkhangel’sk, and how the Kiks.ádi and Kaagwaantaan built this relationship to suit their own strategic needs. The American occupation, in contrast, was more based on pure military force and lacked the give and take of the tsarist occupation. Nonetheless, both the American military and the Russian-American Company, despite being quite different entities, engaged in similar activities. My research suggests that occupations are not always a direct application of power on an oppressed local population. Instead, local populations can have great influence over occupations and shape it to meet their own security needs. By cementing an alliance with the occupying Russians, the Sitka Kwaan not only received important material goods from the Russians, but also secured a key military ally against other Tlingit clans. I find that these alliances between Tlingit clans and colonizers became less important after the coming of the Americans, as they relied on coercion more readily than the tsarist empire in southeast Alaska. Still, some continuities existed between tsarist and American colonization, as both sought to extract natural resources from the land. Many of the projects begun by the tsarist governors, like mining and logging, reached greater fruition through the efforts of the Americans. I examine how these economic processes were facilitated by the American military. My research suggests that transfers in colonial powers did not always lead to major policy changes during occupations.